June 16, 2002
Not being a musician I can only surmise what musical challenges composing for and performing with a mid-sized jazz ensemble pose.
Everyone knows how Miles Davis dealt with some of those musical issues in the nonet as he, Gil Evans, John Lewis, Gerry Mulligan and the crew began tying together the Claude Thornhill band’s static harmonies and mysterious sonorities with the quick moving flow of Bird’s combo using highly prized improvisors familiar with the musical vocabulary and vision of the leader.
Not much has really changed today in terms of modus operandi, it’s just the sounds went through the 60’s social blender, starting a trajectory of improvisational language that is still developing in the Peter Brötzmann Chicago Tentet.
I don’t mean to jump directly from Miles Davis to the German saxophonist President Clinton told Oxford University he admired, Peter Brötzmann, without saying anything’s gone on between them: Sun Ra in various groups he led, or Cecil Taylor’s Unit Structures Ensembles, Ornette Coleman’s Prime Time, David Murray’s Octet, Henry Threadgill’s various ensembles, and Roscoe Mitchell’s nine piece Note Factory.
For their own reasons these artists chose instrumentation somewhere between a combo and big band, and faced down how to arrange the voices and colors and rhythms into a individual style while finding their own answers to the necessary writing such a group of improvisational leaders needs to cohere. But, as stated, I surmise. I don’t play.
In any case add to your list of ensembles in this configuration the Peter Brötzmann Chicago Tentet. They are full-throated musical terriers or little lost motes of sound floating apart in the cosmic dust One moment they sound as if all the people of Berlin and Chicago are talking simultaneously right at you, and the the next are burning jazz musicians focused on sustaining velocity through time.
This concert underscored how much jazz is a performance art and that sound recordings only tell part of the story: watching them interact, how the front line and rhythm section cue in and out of musical events, how people read in groups, how saxophones play drums parts and pocket trumpet and trombone can walk a bass line makes for another level of understanding.
Which is not intended to undermine Bruno Johnson’s two new releases by this amazing ensemble on his Okka Disk Records (www.okkadisk.com) “Short Visit To Nowhere” and “Broken English.”
For the record: Peter Brötzmann tenor sax, tarogato, clarinet / Joe McPhee trumpet, valve trombone / Jeb Bishop trombone / Ken Vandermark tenor sax, baritone sax, clarinet, bass clarinet / Mats Gustafsson — alto sax, tenor sax, baritone sax, fluteophone / Mars Williams sopranino, soprano, alto, and tenor saxophones / Fred Lonberg-Holm cello, as well as a type of hurdy gurdy instrument / Kent Kessler bass / Michael Zerang drums, conga / Hamid Drake drums, frame drum, hand drums.
Yes, hearing The Peter Brötzmann Chicago Tentet with about 150 folks at the Kraftbrau Brewery in Kalamazoo on Thursday May 13, 2002 was a special musical event, their last concert in a three-week tour. The next day they’d pull their funky purple retro bus out of the Kraftbrau’s gravel lot and return to Chicago for a weekend of concerts, two days of recording and then a week in Europe.
Kalamazoo was an entirely acoustic concert, 10 musicians on a 14'X 14' stage giving it the appearance of the display window in a used Selmer store. The group delivered five unrecorded compositions alive after three weeks on the road, music that’s becoming highly attuned, shaped and impassioned.
Moreover, after three weeks of concert and recital halls, excepting an appearance at “Tonic,” the ensemble seemed ready to pull back a few pints and relax into a last club date, a return to their spiritual roots, the tavern.
The casual atmosphere and suitable acoustics of the Kraftbrau excited them, it had what they needed. And the audience egged them on – it was a good crowd for listening. The talkers and smokers were outside on the patio, barely audible.
In other words, the band let it out, exploring confidently an incredible breadth of ensemble dynamics, textures, rhythmic compositional elements that encouraged creative and weird riffs, music built on individual improvising solo voices that begin with and embrace the on-going development in improvised music that is labeled the avant-garde. Yet post 1965 John Coltrane, the European scene since the 1960’s, and Chicago’s continuing commentary on the whole trip is only a part of what they’re doing now.